Teri Orr: Making room inside the newsroom…
As a full-time journalist — years ago — I felt the thrill of defeat and the agony of victory, depending upon which side of the story I was covering. Prior to covering the news, I loved following it … the unfolding of Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and how long it took for the AIDS crisis to become a story after the riots at Stonewall.
More recently the mystery and wonder of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and the Panama Papers has made for pretty breathtaking journalism/spy versus spy stuff.
Locally — of course — there were stories were about the Treasure Hill project back in the ’80’s — which has proven to be the story that keeps on giving. The moving/saving of the old Miner’s Hospital from the parking lot of the ski resort — there was only one — to try and create a park where there were just rusty swings on dirt. And to repurpose that brick building to become an award-winning small-town library.
There were drug murders, deals and arrests all during the ’80’s here. They went away for decades only to resurface again in the 2010’s. The bids for and the finally winning and creating a Winter Olympic Games (in part) on our tiny Main Street.
Our schools have never not been filled with disgruntled parents wanting a better education system for their children.
But on a parallel course, of course, was a nation of stories of AIDS and wars and Oklahoma bombings and the Unabomber and Bill Clinton and “that woman” and 9/11 and the first African American president and then the first president who had never before been elected to any public office.
Dizzying — all of it.
A bunch of really smart filmmakers and brave documentary film funders embarked on a project, “The Fourth Estate,” to cover the Old Gray Lady (so called (in part) because it was the last major paper — in the country — to resist adding four color photos to the front page). The New York Times — labeled as ground zero of “fake news” by Donald Trump, when he became president-elect — followed a fearless, exhausting course in a year where news included — the entire #MeToo moment exposing finally Harvey Weinstein’s lifelong gross negligent conduct toward women, including repeated accusations of the rape of numerous actresses. And as that investigation unfolded at the Times, a reporter of their own would be accused of bad behavior towards some in the workplace — right there — when the workplace WAS the New York Times. They won Pulitzers for their work last year — three of them. But the filmmakers and funders had no idea where the story was headed when they started. They just knew a good story when they saw/heard/felt one.
In the ongoing plot of — there will always be a Park City connection … there are a couple — the director of the doc — Liz Garbus has had numerous films premiere at the Sundance Film Festival from “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” to “What Happened, Miss Simone?”
One of the funders — Impact Partners — has partners here in Park City — including Jim and Susan Swartz. Susan’s award-winning artwork is on display in her gallery on Main Street and Jim won an Oscar last year for producing — “Icarus” — which won the Oscar for best documentary. He is also a venture capitalist of some legendary success.
If you care about the news — politics — the future of our country — and of journalism — this series is a must see. A friend of mine on the east coast — involved in film himself — posted about it a few weeks ago and said, “Don’t miss this.” So thank you, David Troy, for the heads up. It was like watching “All the President’s Men” meets “The Post” with a bit of “The West Wing” meets “Madame Secretary” dipped in “Scandal.” Except it was/is all real. On Thursday morning this week the NYT did a kind of radio call-in show for subscribers with the principals in the film/newsroom who answered questions about the making of the doc and the making of the Pulitzers and the sausage making of all good stories.
The participants included Julie Davis, White House correspondent, and Matt Abrazzo, White House correspondent. They spoke frankly about what it was like to have cameras in the workplace for a year. And in the end — the distractions were worth the product — which showed the never ending news cycle — the unpredictability of all news but certainly covering this president. Matt admitted he hated having the film crew. He had a blow-up with them that was never put in the doc. He laughed and said it was like a bad sitcom where after the first two episodes he disappears — as if being sent off to boarding school. He was, however, very proud how the coverage of their coverage played out. How the stress of the job was visible.
Julie said she loved how it looked like they came out batting 1,000 with news sources and stories when, in fact, “We spent a lot of time drilling dry wells.” Matt said the news in the past year was like “the ball was coming really fast — no — it was like four people are throwing baseballs from different directions and you don’t know from where — am I reporting from the right direction or am I going to get hit?”
When asked if it mattered even showing up any more to a White House briefing Julie replied — “You show up every day and just ask and get them on the record.”
Were they worried about the state of the Union given all they have seen, digested and reported in the past year? Matt — “It is an incredibly ‘newsy’ time. We don’t want to get it wrong. We give the public all the info we know to be true in Washington. … The republic has proven to be quite elastic.” Then he listed stories from Watergate to Clinton’s impeachment to 9/11 to all the wars all over the world and you realize the past 50 years alone have tested the mettle of our metal.
Like all print journalism in this country, the very future of such a formidable, informative, institution as The New York Times is fragile. And the way to keep that level of reporting alive — being both a watchdog and lighthouse — is to subscribe. Great journalism needs great support every day and certainly on a big fat New York Times edition of Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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